Attention to Detail Drives Excellence for Clermont's East Water Treatment Plant

Efficient operations and an emphasis on recycling add up to award-winning performance for this Florida water treatment team.

Attention to Detail Drives Excellence for Clermont's East Water Treatment Plant

Joshua Brennan, dual licensed operator, flushes a fire hydrant.

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The City of Clermont is lucky because its source water is so clean. But that doesn’t mean the water plants are free of challenges.

Those can be found in the thousands of details that need attention if a plant is to operate at top efficiency, says Duane Land, water and wastewater operations manager. By taking care of those details, Clermont has consistently won awards from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, while meeting the demand from a community that grew by 27% from 2010-19.

“We’ve been very proactive so that we won’t get caught behind the growth curve,” says Land. The city owns two water plants; the East plant has won most of the awards and is noteworthy for not only treating water but recycling water from the wastewater treatment plant nearby.

Clermont is 25 miles west of Orlando (or, as Land puts it 22 miles from Disney World). Yet the city doesn’t call itself a bedroom community. “We are a rural lifestyle community for cities,” Land says. People come to Clermont to escape. Immediately west of the city, the land turns quickly from urban to rural.

Great water

Raw water processing is simple. Eight wells feed the city’s two water plants. The water is chlorinated and passed to a storage tank. “We are truly blessed being here in the center of the state,” Land says. “We don’t adjust pH. We don’t strip and recarbonate.”

Water from the Floridian Aquifer is that good. Hardness is moderate, and the water doesn’t promote scale in pipes. Two more wells are in the planning stages. The present eight wells are served with pumps varying from 100 to 200 hp (Goulds Water Technology, Weir Floway, and Peerless Pump). The distribution system uses one 75 hp pump and four 200 hp pumps, all Peerless pumps with motors from U.S. Motors (Nidec Motor Corp.).

Given customer demand, Land and his staff don’t have the luxury of running pumps only during off-peak hours to minimize electricity cost. Instead, they’ve figured out what combination of pumps keeps the system charged at the lowest cost. For example, some wells lose head during the day, making them inefficient to operate, “But I can run them 2 or 4 o’clock in the morning,” Land says.

He and his team realized that with variable-frequency drives, a 200 hp pump running at about 85% of rating is just as efficient as a 75 hp pump running at capacity.

Recycling foresight

On the reclamation side, 3.2 to 3.3 mgd of wastewater flows to the water treatment plant and is processed for irrigation. To remove organics and most pathogens, the plant is changing from upflow sand filters to the Aqua MegaDisk filters (Aqua-Aerobic Systems).

Recycled wastewater is chlorinated and sent to storage before being pumped out through purple pipes. About 93% of wastewater reaching the plant is returned to city residents for irrigation — about 1 billion gallons per year. Two large storage ponds at city golf courses hold excess recycled water.

Such large-scale reuse is possible because of farsighted management. About 35 years ago, the eastern two-thirds of Clermont was covered with citrus orchards. Several hard freezes ruined the business, and the land was developed. The city required installation of purple pipe throughout that area. The western side of the city, the original Clermont, won’t get that because of the expense of retrofitting with purple pipe.

Even though residents like green lawns, a water conservation program emphasizes native plants that are stingy water users. “We’ve got native grasses that grow a root depth of 10 feet just to survive,” Land says.

Evie Wallace, the city’s water conservation officer, visits homeowner associations to explain the city’s irrigation plan and to encourage people to install irrigation systems with rain gauges that shut off irrigation after rainfall.

Irrigation through purple pipes is scheduled based on home addresses. Even-numbered homes receive water two days a week, and odd-numbered homes receive water on two other days. During winter, the dry season, irrigation is cut back to one day per week per house.

Rates are structured in two tiers, and users of less water pay the lower rate. Homeowners are encouraged to switch to low-flow fixtures, and that is having an impact at the wastewater treatment plant where the nitrogen concentration has increased because the volume of water is less. That has required slowing the treatment process to compensate, Land says.

As the city is growing, so is reclamation. There have been four plant expansions, and a fifth is in the design stage. Capacity will expand from 4 mgd to 6.5 by fall 2022 if the project remains on track.

Hard-working team

The people who make the Clermont plant work so well are: Rick Laney, chief water operator; and Jay Buttram, Al Pagan and Jodi Pearson, Class C operators. All are also certified for wastewater treatment although not to the same level as for water.

Dual certification allows the city to cover both water and wastewater plants with fewer people. Someone is on duty for water and wastewater for eight hours every day, seven days per week; if needed the water plant staff can help at the wastewater plant.

Another testament to the skill of the Clermont team is its award history. In 2019, the plant received its eighth consecutive Plant Operations Excellence Award for a medium system in the Central District of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

“As much as I’d like to say five of us did all this, the award is a reflection on the city as a whole,” Land says. “Five of us can’t take credit for it as much as we’d like to.”

The award is a recognition of support from the city and for a job that most people don’t think of, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. “If there isn’t water, we don’t have a hospital,” Land observes.

When he came to Clermont in 1999, Land was a dual-licensed operator; he taught the other workers. Everyone had to do everything, from running plants to maintaining the distribution system. Now, team members are more specialized. With retirement only a few years away for him and Laney, Land is also looking toward the next generation of operators.

His present team is diverse. Pagan has a business degree, Laney maintained electronics in the Air Force, and Pearson is in college, studying biology and business. “We all just taught each other what we knew, and it’s been working out pretty well,” Land says.

His people may not make the money they could in the private sector, but there is stability. “They feel accomplished,” Land says. “They look forward to coming to work.”   


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